HPRB Strongly Criticizes VMP Plan for McMillan Park; National Trust Warns of Legal Violations

At a June 27 hearing on the latest design for the redevelopment of the McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District put forward by the Gray Administration and Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) detailed the plan’s serious design and aesthetic flaws.  “The buildings are completely disjointed” and “don’t hold together at all despite the rhetoric,” said the Board, sending VMP back for major revisions.

Opening with statements from the community and mirroring the June 6th surplus meeting hosted by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the vast majority of speakers urged the Board to reject the VMP plan.

In a significant new development, the Deputy General Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation alerted the Board that the VMP plan would violate the law.  She cautioned that “perpetual covenants were attached to the McMillan Park Reservoir property as a condition of sale when the McMillan site was transferred to the District of Columbia government in 1987 from the federal General Services Administration” and that destruction of the vast majority of the underground cells would violate these covenants — particularly the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, which the District Government is required to follow.

Calling on VMP to heed the comments of the community, the Board likened the photo of the proposed park that VMP highlights in its presentations to a “bait and switch,” saying it “looks good if you don’t see the rest of the plan;” described the housing and retail buildings shaped like X’s as “the worst of the four” building designs; called for the central section of the site to be redesigned altogether in a unified fashion; urged VMP to reduce the overall density; pressed for “activation” of the underground cells; reiterated the need for exemplary architecture in light of the extreme level of demolition proposed for the historic structures; and characterized the plan as a place where they, themselves, would not want to live.

The Board took the VMP plan to task at almost every turn, and VMP representatives struggled several times to respond to issues that the Board raised.  For example, when asked about the disappearance of a section of the historic Olmsted Walk from around the site perimeter, the VMP team lacked a coherent answer.  Another explanation drew laughter when, in response to the Board’s disappointment that a historic service court was no longer pedestrian only, a VMP representative reclassified it at the spur of the moment as a “special drive” for vehicles.

HPRB will resume comment on the future of McMillan Park on July 11, 2013 at 12:00 PM.

The full statement by the National Trust can be read here:

Friends of McMillan Park Requests Documentation from CM McDuffie re Claim that VMP Plan Would Create 3,000 Jobs

We sent the following email to CM McDuffie this morning and look forward to his respose.

Council Member,

At your State of the Ward 5 address on Tuesday, June 25, you said in response to a statement by a gentlemen opposed to the VMP plan for McMillan Park that the VMP plan will create 3,000 temporary and permanent jobs.  Do we have that correct?
Would you please share with us, either directly or by posting it on your website, the analysis that reaches this conclusion?  It’s a substantial number that deserves supporting documentation.
We will post this request to you (as well as your response) on our website.
Thank you,
Friends of McMillan Park

A Letter of Sympathy for VMP

Poor VMP.

Despite its tremendous wealth and extremely strong ties to DC’s political and media establishments, it’s stuck with the unenviable job of touting a plan that nearly everyone — including VMP! — is ashamed of.  Time and time again, VMP rolls out the same deceptive photograph of the green space in its plan (the one aspect of its plan we sort of like!) while hiding the other 75% — namely the mausoleum-inspired office buildings and dense suburban town homes.  Of course, VMP makes no mention of the nearly total destruction of the underground cells and obliteration of any sense of the sand filtration plant’s history, and we understand why they leave those details out.

Click here to see the single VMP image and media campaign you’ve seen over and over again ad nauseum:  http://bit.ly/15bE7Ol

And here are the office building designs that VMP continues to hide: 

VMP Mausoleum

Looking at the Soviet-era architecture, is it any wonder VMP only shows the renderings of the park?  And do they really expect us to trust them regarding traffic, flooding, jobs, affordable housing, historic preservation and a host of other issues when they refuse to be honest about the buildings they themselves designed?

You can’t help but feel almost sorry for VMP’s herculean task of having to make their plan palatable to a savvy public.  Unfortunately for VMP, Washingtonians are much smarter than VMP thinks and can see the pig clearly through the lipstick VMP keeps smearing on it.

Friends of McMillan Park to Demonstrate at Councilmember McDuffie’s State of Ward Address

The Friends of McMillan Park (FOM) plan to demonstrate at Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie’s State of the Ward address on Tuesday to urge the Councilmember to drop his support for the District Government’s plan to build 12-story medical office buildings and suburban-style townhomes in the McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District, as it is known on the National Register of Historic Places.

The FOM will have on hand copies of a petition signed by over 3,500 DC residents, mostly from Ward 5, as well as letters from schoolchildren, asking the Mayor and Councilmembers to reject the plan by Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) and to consider creative alternatives that provide amenities for the neighborhoods while preserving majority green space and the historic integrity of the site.

“We want to remind Councilmember McDuffie that his constituents and people across the District understand that having a park and supporting historic preservation and economic development can go hand-in-hand,” said Juliet Orzal. “A park that is owned and controlled by the people is need by the communities around McMillan, particularly in light of how much of the remaining open space in the area is planned for development in the next few years.”

The FOM will also remind the attendees of the widespread opposition by the community to the plan of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to declare McMillan “surplus” in order to turn it over to VMP — the developer selected through a non-competitive bidding process. At a June 6th meeting called by DMPED to gauge the community’s views on whether to declare McMillan Park “surplus,” over 100 people showed up and 95% of them opposed the surplus designation.

Councilmember McDuffie’s State of the Ward Address is at 6:30 pm, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Luke C. Moore High School, 1001 Monroe St., NE.

Washington Post Covers Collage City Studio Vision for McMillan Park


Collage City Studio has Alternative Vision for Disputed McMillan Redevelopment Site

By Mark Jenkins, Published: June 18 E-mail the writer

Urban BeachThe debate over redeveloping the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant is much like other land-use disputes, with high emotions on both sides. But opponents of a city-backed scheme to build a mixed-use project on the historic property have something that most development adversaries don’t: a plan of their own.

That plan was devised by Collage City Studio, a pro bono group headed by Catholic University architecture professor Miriam Gusevich. She has been consulting since 2000 on the 25-acre parcel, whose northeastern corner borders the intersection of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue NW. Last year, Gusevich updated her proposal with the help of four of what she called her “best students”: Joseph Barrick, Filipe Da Silva Pereira, Peter Miles and Nina Tatic.

“The idea behind our plan was that, when the community said, ‘No, we don’t want what the city’s giving us,’ they could have something to point to and say, ‘We want something like this,’ ” Miles said.

Built to filter drinking water taken from the Potomac, the facility opened in 1905. The next year, it was designated as a memorial to Sen. James McMillan, whose “city beautiful” principles shaped 20th-century Washington with the McMillan Plan. Partially designed by celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the site became a historic landmark in 1991.

The plant has been unused since 1985 and was sold to the city in 1987. What remains on the site appears to be mostly open land, aside from two sets of silos once used for storing sand. Actually, Gusevich said, it’s “one of the country’s largest and oldest green roofs.” Underneath are 20 vaulted cells whose interiors Gusevich compared to “the mosque in Cordoba. It’s just phenomenal. The quality of the space is incredible.”

All but two of the underground cells and much of the greenery would vanish under the plan favored by the city’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. It has signed an exclusive rights agreement with Vision McMillan Partners, a consortium of Trammell Crow Company, Jair Lynch Development Partners and EYA.

There are still two potential obstacles to that group’s design: The D.C. Council must vote to declare the land surplus, and the Historic Preservation Review Board must approve the proposed alterations.

“The city has yet to make a case why all the vaults have to be torn down,” Gusevich said. “In fact, they are using vaults to hold water right now for the water department. You can’t have it both ways. Either the structure is so damaged that it cannot be used for anything, or, if it’s still viable to be used for water, that means it’s in good enough condition to be used for something else.”

The professor concedes that the southeast corner of the plant has been undermined by the action of a submerged creek. Collage City Studio’s plan would demolish that section of the vaults, remove an earthen berm and make a new entrance to the subterranean structure.

“It’s like a split-level house,” Gusevich said. “You can enter from the upper level; you can enter from the lower level.”

To take advantage of the low-level southeastern section, Collage City Studio would create an “urban beach.” That part of the design was later incorporated into Vision McMillan Partners’ plan.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), who represents the neighborhoods east of the site, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Although the proposal advanced by Gusevich and her students would include a larger community center and more open space, it would not forgo development. Both plans contain medical office buildings to serve nearby hospitals, including Washington Hospital Center and Children’s Hospital. But Collage City Studio proposes erecting some structures on the north side of Michigan Avenue, on current parking lots.

“We’ve tried to develop this sort of in tandem with [Vision McMillan Partners’] plan, as a counterpart,” Miles said. “So we can say, ‘This is roughly equivalent to what they’re proposing; we just think it’s done a lot better.’ ”

Washington Informer Covers McMillan Park Controversy


Residents Fight McMillan Development Plan

James Wright | 6/19/2013, noon

No Surplus PicA group of activists who primarily live in Ward 5 are taking on the Gray administration’s plan to support a development firm bent on transforming an historic site into an enclave of high-rise buildings. The group opposes the plan because they contend that it’s out of character with the neighborhood.

The Friends of McMillan Park (FOM) want the Gray administration to open up the bidding on the development of the McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration Site in Northwest to firms other than Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), the city’s preferred development team. Kirby Vining, a leader with FOM, is concerned that VMP’s plans are too focused on commercial and residential development and does not respect the history and green space of the McMillan site.

“The mayor has considered one proposal,” said Vining, 59. “We want to see some competition. We would like to have a plan where 50 percent of the site stays parkland and we want more creative uses.”

The VMP plan, according to its website, envisions a new community that consists of homes, offices, parks of various sizes, retail stores and arts spaces while retaining the historical character of the property. Vining, who disagrees with the VMP plan, said that high-rise buildings are included in their design and the greenery on the site will essentially be destroyed.

The 25-acre site, which sits along North Capitol Street, cleaned all of the city’s water supply for decades through its sand filtration plant and is one of the first areas to racially integrate before World War II. The site was owned by the federal government until 1986 when it was declared surplus property and the General Services Administration decided not to keep it.

The District government bought the site for $9.3 million in 1987 and a decision was made to develop the property. For 26 years the parcel has been vacant and has deteriorated.

In the mid-2000s, the former National Capital Revitalization Corporation selected the property as a part of a land swap involving what is now the Nationals Park in Southeast. The District government led by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty selected VMP to develop the land in 2007.

Two officials with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, McMillan site project manager Shiv Newaldness and director of real estate Jeff Miller met with residents on June 6 at the All Nations Baptist Church in Northeast to hear the concerns of the community. Well over 100 residents criticized the VMP proposal, with some supporting a plan that would preserve the site’s underground caverns and parkland with limited residential and retail space.

The meeting didn’t convince the deputy mayor’s officials to change its development team.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) is believed to support the VMP plan. However, he recently aided the FOM by prodding the city’s planning and economic development office to release a document – the Exclusive Rights Agreement – to the organization that pertains to the site.

“The Friends of McMillan Park are very grateful to Council member McDuffie for stepping up and aiding us with obtaining this document,” Vining said.

The FOM has collected 3,500 signatures from District residents to open up the bidding process, Vining said. In addition to McDuffie, they have approached D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), a 2014 mayoral candidate and the chair of the D.C. Council’s economic development committee, and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), another 2014 mayoral hopeful and the chair of the powerful finance committee, about what they plan to do to preserve the character of the McMillan site.

Tony Norman, a longtime member of the FOM and the chair of the 1B advisory neighborhood commission, said that he hopes Evans makes the right choice.

“This is a chance for Evans to set himself apart from the other contenders and support the clearly demonstrated desire of the residents around McMillan Park and Ward 5 for a park instead of the suburban-style development pushed by the Gray administration,” said Norman, 48.

Vining said that if necessary, FOM will approach the entire D.C. Council on the matter.

“What we want is a normal bidding process for the development of the park,” he said. “It should not be limited to just one group.”

The Buildings VMP and the CSG Don’t Want You To See

Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) has been working overtime to put out glossy and deceptive images that attempt to portray its poor and destructive plan in a favorable light.  It has also employed organizations with which it has strong ties, such as the developer-supported and ironically-named Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG), to try to convince DC residents that high-density (not to mention ugly) development with no corresponding increase in transportation infrastructure in an area lacking a metro stop and served only by three streets is, well, “smarter growth.”

Not surprisingly, the roadshows of VMP and the CSG leave out the photo below, which shows VMP’s proposed residential/grocery/retail complex and comes directly from its Concept Submission to the Historic Preservation Review Board.  This hideous and hulking monstrosity, which resembles a cross between a mausoleum and a Soviet apartment block circa 1978, will take up nearly 1/3 of the site on the northern end of the park.  Both VMP and the CSG boast that the VMP plan is a fine example of quality architecture and historic preservation even though both groups do everything they can to sweep much of it under the rug.  “Look over here, folks, and ignore the man behind the curtain!”

Fortunately, Washingtonians are smarter than VMP and the CSG think and continue to demand better for a city treasure, valuable public space, and site on the National Register of Historic Places.


VMP Mausoleum

DC School Children Plead with Mayor and City Council to Save McMillan Park

McMillan Park Student Drawing

Third grade students try their hands at convincing Mayor Vincent Gray and Members of the DC Council that parks are important and that McMillan Park should be saved. Do you think the Mayor and Councilmembers will answer them?

“So please don’t destroy McMillan Park because it means so much to the people who live near that park and their kids wouldn’t have anywhere to play.”  – Aleah

Click here to read the children’s letters: McMillan Park Letters

Click here to see the children’s drawings: McMillan Park Illustrations

Thank You for Submitting Written Testimony to HPRB and DMPED!

We’d like to extend a hearty thank you to the 60+ people who embraced our call to action and emailed the Mayor, DC Councilmembers, DMPED, and the Historic Preservation Review Board to let them know that our public lands should not be for sale and that mausoleum-inspired commercial buildings in historic parks are incompatible with historic preservation.

Please stay tuned for further developments!

Call to Action: Please Submit McMillan Park Testimony to HPRB and DMPED


We scored a significant victory at the June 6th Surplus Meeting hosted by DMPED when over 150 people attended and 95% of the speakers opposed “surplussing” McMillan Park. Although the community clearly said “No” to declaring McMillan Park to be surplus public property, the city continues moving forward with its plans, which include constructing the hideous building in the following illustration from Vision McMillan Partners within our historic Park. Not only would this monstrosity contribute significantly to the destruction of the site’s historic integrity, the mausoleum-style architecture stands in stark contrast to the graceful old town homes of the surrounding communities. Understandably, Vision McMillan Partners avoids highlighting this building in its brochures or community outreach.

VMP Mausoleum

The next stage of the fight to save McMillan Park takes place at the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) hearing on June 27, 2013 from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm at 441 4th St. NW, Room 220 South (Judiciary Square). You can either attend the hearing and deliver your testimony in person or submit your testimony via email in advance. If you testify in person, you will have 3 minutes to speak, and you should bring 10 printed copies of your testimony to share with the Board.

If you are unable to attend the HPRB hearing in person, please send the following email to the list of addressees below. To win this battle, it is essential that the Mayor, City Council Members, and Historic Preservation Review Board hear from as many of us as possible. You must send this email by 5:00 pm Monday, June 17!!

  • To: steve.callcott@dc.gov, historic.preservation@dc.gov
  • Cc: pmendelson@dccouncil.us, kmcduffie@dccouncil.us, dcatania@dccouncil.us, vorange@dccouncil.us, dgrosso@dccouncil.us, abonds@dccouncil.us, jgraham@dccouncil.us, jevans@dccouncil.us, mcheh@dccouncil.us, mbowser@dccouncil.us, twells@dccouncil.us, yalexander@dccouncil.us, mbarry@dccouncil.us, vincent.gray@dc.gov, victor.hoskins@dc.gov, jeff.miller@dc.gov, shiv.newaldass@dc.gov, harriet.tregoning@dc.gov, friendsofmcmillanpark@gmail.com

Mr. Mayor, Council Members, Mr. Newaldass, and Members of the Historic Preservation Review Board:

I am writing for two reasons:

First, as follow-up to the June 6th McMillan Park Surplus Meeting, I urge the City Council to reject Mayor Gray’s proposal to surplus and dispose of the McMillan Park Sand Filtration Site.

Second, I urge the Historic Preservation Review Board to reject the Vision McMillan Partners proposed building designs for McMillan Park Reservoir (HPA #13-318). The height, scale, and designs of the proposed buildings are inappropriate for the historic McMillan Park site and are inconsistent with the overall open space character, sense of place, aesthetics, and historic vistas of this distinctive national landmark Olmsted park. The proposed building designs are also incompatible with the existing historic buildings and with the above- and below-ground historic structures on the site. The building design iterations are also premature and unrefined given that the Historic Preservation Review Board has yet to approve the proposed master plan and design guidelines.

Thank you,

Your Name
Your Address